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In MP, those not vaccinated get tagged with skull mark, a warning

A NEWLY launched Covid vaccination drive in Madhya Pradesh’s Niwari district has led to policemen conducting checks on roads and making those who have not been vaccinated wear posters with skull marks — and the message: “Mujhse dur rahein, maine abhi corona ka tika nahi lagwaya (Stay away from me, I haven’t got vaccinated for Covid).”

Those who are handed these posters, under the drive in the district’s Prithvipur block, are asked to read the message out loud and take an oath that they would get vaccinated within two days. Those who have been vaccinated are given badges with colours of the national flag and the message: “Mein saccha deshbhakt hoon kyunki maine corona ka tika lagwaya hai (I am a true patriot because I have been vaccinated).”

Asked about such measures being taken at a time when states are facing a shortage of vaccines, Niwari SP Alok Kumar Singh said the instructions were to just hand out the sticker or poster and not make anyone wear it. “It is one of the many initiatives and is only symbolic with an intention to create awareness,” Singh said.

“With a third wave being anticipated, various awareness drives are being carried out to dispel the fear of vaccination, which is the only solution against the virus,” he said.

Sub Divisional Police Officer Santosh Pandey, who is in charge of the drive in Prithvipur block, said “no partiality is shown”. “I am a local from the adjoining Panna district and in this region of Bundekhand it is understood that if someone swears over something, they will definitely fulfill it. That is why people are being made to take an oath to vaccinate themselves,” said Pandey.

SP Singh and Pandey said the drive was launched to overcome vaccine hesitancy, especially in the villages.

Bordering UP, Niwari has so far recorded 3,673 Covid cases. During the second wave in April, nearly 80 policemen were down with Covid. Since May 20, the daily count has mostly been in single digits. The district has recorded 47 deaths so far, of which 35 have occurred since May. There are currently 48 active cases in Niwari.

However, the district’s pace of vaccination is yet to pick up with only 4.2 per cent of its population in the 18-44 age group covered so far. So far, 36,344 people (about 60 per cent) from a population of 59,885 above 45 years old have received at least one dose of the vaccine. But the campaign has covered only 8,582 of the district’s 2.03 lakh population in the 18-44 age group.

On June 9, only 257 people above 45 years of age and 895 more in the 18-44 age range were vaccinated in Niwari. State-wise, Madhya Pradesh has vaccinated 1.35 crore people from a population of 7.2 crore.

Niwari District Collector Ashish Bargav said the district, which is the smallest in the state and was carved out of Tikamgarh just over two years ago, was recording nearly 3,000 vaccinations per day in March. But the campaign was “badly hit” when the state machinery was diverted to tackle the second wave, he said.

“Now, we are focused on vaccination as a part of which shopkeepers will be vaccinated on priority, and they are being encouraged to get their customers to get vaccinated. We have increased the number of camps. Also, all ground staff have been tasked with getting people to vaccinate,” said Bhargav.

According to Prithvipur SDPO Pandey, police have also held meetings with traditional healers asking them to encourage people to get vaccinated. And, with Madhya Pradesh aiming to start easing Covid curbs from June 15, shopkeepers “are also being asked to encourage at least five of their customers to get vaccinated”, he said.

Reshu Soni, a local resident who was made to wear the badge with the skull mark Tuesday, said: “You feel bad about being stopped and made to wear the badge but there were many who were made to do it. It is part of something good.” Soni said he managed to get his first dose at a local Primary Health Centre on Wednesday.

Sonu Vishwakarma, another local resident who received a badge with the national flag’s colours for having got his first vaccine dose, said: “This way of honouring and boycotting is better than getting beaten by police.”

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